Navy football vs. Pittsburgh: Mids’ Nick Sloan redeems himself with game-winning field goal

October 26, 2013

One week after missing an extra point in double overtime of a demoralizing loss to Toledo, Navy place kicker Nick Sloan booted a 30-yard field goal as time expired to cap a come-from-behind, 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh in front of a homecoming crowd of 37,094 on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Midshipmen (4-3) ended a two-game losing streak and avoided falling below .500 for the first time this season. They got into position for Sloan’s kick courtesy of a final drive that began with 2 minutes 17 seconds left at the Pittsburgh 49 following a defensive stand that led to a poor Panthers punt.

Navy ran 11 plays, and after quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushed for two yards to the 13, Sloan trotted onto the field with one second remaining and calmly converted to trigger a sideline-emptying celebration. Sloan was barely visible amid a pile of teammates congratulating the sophomore, whose missed extra point was crucial in Navy’s 45-44 loss to Toledo last weekend.

“I try to think of every kick as a new kick, so going into that kick, I heard some of the coaches on the other team saying, ‘You missed a PAT last week,’ kind of giving me a hard time for that,” Sloan said. “Of course I try not to think about it. I just try to think with confidence and try to visualize myself making this kick. That’s all I could do.”

Overcoming collective offensive lethargy for much of the game, Reynolds directed two second-half touchdown drives covering 91 and 71 yards. The sophomore rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and completed 8 of 18 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown to improve to 11-4 as a starter.

Junior fullback Quinton Singleton added 27 yards on five carries, one of which yielded a nine-yard touchdown run with 14:28 to go in regulation. Singleton was pressed into service following a strong showing in practice this week coupled with Noah Copeland’s ailments that limited the starter to four carries for nine yards.

“People can question a lot of things about our guys, but you can’t question these guys’ character, integrity, the type of young men we have,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “There are some great young people in that locker room. Super happy for Nick Sloan. The guy took a beating last week. He was the martyr. He was the guy that took the blame for everything.”

The defense was culpable against Toledo as well, allowing a season-high point total, but the unit bounced back against the Panthers when it mattered most. With the score tied at 21 and Pittsburgh beginning a series at its 25, linebacker Obi Uzoma sacked Tom Savage for a seven-yard loss on first down. Two players later, Pittsburgh was unable to advance the ball on third and six, and Matt Yoklic’s 20-yard punt set up Navy for the decisive drive.

Pittsburgh (4-3) put together a 16-play drive to begin the game, but on third and four from the Navy 7, Savage’s pass landed incomplete. That brought out freshman place kicker Chris Blewitt for a 25-yard field goal to conclude a possession that lasted more than seven and a half minutes.

The Midshipmen were unable to gain a first down on each of their first two series, and Pittsburgh was on the move again at the start of the second quarter. But nose guard Travis Bridges jarred the ball loose, and linebacker Don Pearson fell on it at the Navy 42.

On the next snap, Reynolds threw a pass that bounced off slotback Geoffrey Whiteside. Slotback Marcus Thomas swooped in to secure the carom before turning the right corner and racing down the sideline untouched into the end zone with 13:07 left until intermission.

The Panthers came back with a nine-play drive that stalled at the Navy 26 when Savage threw incomplete on third and three. Blewitt booted a 44-yard field goal to draw Pittsburgh within a point, and it reclaimed the lead 13-7 with 1:41 to go until halftime on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Savage to wide receiver Devin Street.

“I’m extremely proud of Nick after last week,” Midshipmen senior linebacker and co-captain Cody Peterson said. “That’s tough for a kicker because you’re in the limelight and you have that one play. By no means was it his fault, because there’s so many plays in a game. But he came back this week. He’s got ice in his veins. He made it.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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